From left, Shawn Smith, Holly Kasun, Ashe Epp and Mike Lindell appear during a Nov. 28, 2021, broadcast on frankspeech.com. Smith, Kasun and Epp are Colorado-based “election integrity” activists. (Screenshot from frankspeech.com)
Coloradans have shown repeatedly at the polls that by big margins they prefer Democrats in government, and Colorado government officials oversee what are widely viewed as “gold standard” elections. But the state since November 2020, when former Republican President Donald Trump engendered the lie that the election was stolen from him, has been especially fertile territory for “election integrity” conspiracy theories.
Several key figures in the national movement to undermine American democracy are Coloradans, and a small but mad band of election deniers has exerted its influence within the state and well beyond it.
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Some of these democracy haters have captured the attention of election-conspiracy Trump ally Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow who specializes in mixing product-hawking with nation-betraying. Recently it was announced that Lindell is funding a new national election-denial organization and paying a team of Colorado conspiracists to run it.
With that, the state takes its place at the center of a countrywide effort to dismantle democracy.
This means that Coloradans who want to maintain free and fair elections, who have faith in public servants who run elections, who trust the mechanics of representative democracy, who are willing peacefully to accept electoral results both when they are favorable and when they are disappointing, because such a system is preferable to authoritarianism, violence, manipulation and lies — those Coloradans have a special duty to help preserve constitutional order.
During a broadcast on Sunday, Lindell said he had been traveling the country observing the work of election conspiracists. “I realized that we not only needed a voice,” he said, “we need to be united, like a network … to organize to be the hub.” He continued: “And then I met this great group from Colorado. And I get there and I’m going, it was like a godsend.”
That group was U.S. Election Integrity Plan. USEIP rejects the results of the 2020 election and promotes disinformation about election integrity. Volunteers reportedly have been going door-to-door in Colorado counties conducting “voter verification.” Members of the group are unhinged opponents of Secretary of State Jena Griswold. The most implausible election conspiracies enjoy the most ardent assent among the group’s leaders, including Shawn Smith and co-founders Holly Kasun and Ashe Epp.
Smith, Kasun and Epp joined Lindell during the recent broadcast, during which Lindell said he hired the three, with Smith as president, to operate a “hub,” which they gave the awkward name Cause of America. The organization is supposed to coordinate election-denial activities throughout the country. USEIP has a presence in 38 states, they said, and Cause of America intends to be active in all 50 states. They’re already flying around the country on Lindell’s private jet.
The USEIP operatives used to assert — publicly, at least — that they paid for their activities with out-of-pocket resources. “We don’t fundraise and we don’t accept donations,” Epp said during a presentation in May. “Everything is voluntary. It’s people — we the people bringing our skills.”
Now the whole project is revealed to be little more than a grift. Lindell said during the broadcast that Smith, Kasun and Epp “have left jobs” they’ve had “for a long time” to get on Lindell’s payroll, and Epp said she left “corporate America” after 20 years after God told her to go work for Lindell. Cause of America presents itself as a nonprofit. When it first launched, its website featured a “Want to Donate?” prompt that advised visitors to support a separate outfit that was “geared toward fixing 2020” and was not a charitable organization. Now even the “Want to Donate?” prompt appears to have been removed, and Lindell’s election-conspiracy website — the site he tells viewers to visit first to access Cause of America — is replete with ads and promotions for MyPillow.
The Colorado trio’s alliance with Lindell is profoundly pathetic. Watching them sheepishly defer to their new boss as he repeatedly talks over them and hogs air time with circumlocutions makes for squirm-inducing viewing. The Sunday broadcast made clear the truth that they have little to say anyway, which is almost deflating, given how much noise they make. They have never — not during the broadcast, not ever — advanced legitimate evidence that the 2020 election was fraudulent.
But that doesn’t mean the threat they pose should be ignored, especially now that they’re running around with MyPillow money. They’re among a mob of anti-democracy hooligans in Colorado who have acquired national influence and, if not checked, threaten elections in 2022 and beyond. Joe Oltmann, a Douglas County resident, originated the debunked claim that Dominion Voting Systems was involved in rigging the election in favor of President Joe Biden. Tina Peters, the clerk and recorder of Mesa County, has become a national hero of the QAnon fringe for her role in subverting election security in her own office. Lauren Boebert, who represents Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District in Congress, is one of the most devoted election deniers among national lawmakers.
These and other Colorado vandals have thrust the state to national “big lie” prominence. That means Coloradans who have faith in elections and want to sustain America’s system of representative government have a role to play in resisting the disinformation and charlatanism that defines Cause of America. They must be vigilant in sorting truth from lies. They must consult reliable sources of election information, such as reputable news sources and fact-checkers. They must not submit to interrogations at their homes by “voter verification” bullies. They should shame every election denier they encounter and brush them back to a place of wretched obscurity. Most importantly, they should vote — vote for candidates who have the honesty and decency to state that American elections can be trusted.
Colorado might find itself at the center of election denialism. But “we the people” can defend the state’s status as an election role model.
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